Those who can make you believe absurdities, will make you commit atrocitie —Voltaire

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

AIDS Dissidents Must Be Heard


I've decided to come out of the closet. I know that might be strange for me to say, but I don't mean the gay thing. I came out of that closet years ago and -- some would say -- haven't shut up about it since.

No, lately I've been in the closet about something much more scandalous than just being gay, and after edging closer to the door and peeking around the corner for many months, it's time for me to state my ideas boldly, without apology.

I don't believe HIV is the cause of AIDS. My God, now that I've actually admitted it, I feel a little like I did after my first "coming out." I know that my ideas will sever many old relationships, cause doctors to denounce me and provoke some members of the gay community to hate me even more than they do already.

Why do I not believe HIV is the cause of AIDS? I'm no scientist; my ideas arise from ordinary, common sense. All I have to do is look around me at the people with HIV who have lived completely normal lives for the past 20 years and who show no signs of getting sick. These people call themselves long-term thrivers. So if HIV is so lethal, why doesn't everyone die of it?

Well, the experts (cheerily) remind us, they will, someday. But a growing number of medical journalists, including Celia Farber (in Gear magazine) and Nicholas Regush (on ABC News) are challenging HIV as the cause of AIDS.

But why rock the boat now with my dissident views? A recent and frighteningly vicious scientific feud spurred me on. South African president Thabo Mbeki leads a country with an estimated 10 per cent of its population infected with HIV. In July, the World AIDS Conference will convene in South Africa, and Mbeki recently challenged international drug companies by questioning whether HIV is really the cause of AIDS.

Reaction from the medical establishment has been swift and terrifying. "If we could succeed and lock a couple of these guys up, I guarantee you the HIV-denier movement would die pretty darn quickly," said Dr. Mark Wainberg at the closing of the annual conference of the Canadian Association for HIV Research in Montreal last month. AIDS vaccine researcher John Moore of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Centre goes further, saying of those who challenge HIV, "a charge of genocide would not be inappropriate...."

It's scary. Respected doctors, members of our much-vaunted medical establishment, are shrieking that people who express ideas different from their own should be arrested and charged with murder. What are these doctors afraid of?

At the outset, I think it's important to state that most of these doctors are just doing their best to help their patients. AIDS started out as a "gay plague" ('81-'84) that threatened to wipe out the entire gay community, turned into an "epidemic that affects us all" ('84-'96) and finally morphed into a sometimes lethal but often manageable disease that continues to affect a small percentage of "risk" groups. Since 1981, doctors have been trying their best to discover the cause of the disease and develop a vaccine and drugs to treat it.

But things have gotten out of hand. As any gay man who's been to a doctor recently will tell you, it's impossible to get treatment -- even for a sprained ankle -- without someone trying to give you an AIDS test. I know visibly gay (i.e., effeminate) men who've had doctors refuse to treat them until they got the test. And everyone knows what follows the AIDS test: intense pressure to get early treatment with strong protease inhibitor drugs. Drugs that, whatever their effectiveness in fighting AIDS, are at the very least controversial and, at worst, might have serious side effects.

I think professionals like Wainberg are afraid, because doctors today treat gay men the way they used to treat women in the 19th century. Back then, every woman who had a pain or worry was labelled a hysteric. Of course, we now realize that women are not all the same, and women's illnesses can have many causes. But these days, nearly every fag with a pain is given an HIV test and, if positive, put on early "preventive" drug treatment.

But why should they be? Some gay men never develop AIDS symptoms while others have severe reactions to AIDS medicines. I'm sure doctors mean well, but now and then (like everyone) they make mistakes. Admitting you've made a mistake is hard, sometimes humiliating. But it's time for the medical establishment to take a deep breath and start a rational dialogue with those who express contrary ideas about AIDS. People like South African president Thabo Mbeki. And people like -- now I've let the cat out of the bag -- me.

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